On the very last evening of a wonderful bloggers’ mini-meet in Edinburgh, sitting across the table from me in a pub in Rose Street that warm June night, our lovely pal The Swede unexpectedly passed me a large envelope.
What a sweet surprise! Inside were a couple of things that he thought would interest me and he was, of course, quite right. As a lover of art, illustration and unusual historical/cultural artefacts, I was fascinated by the mysterious little book I pulled out from the brown paper package: ’JOY-TIME’ ! (I can’t help thinking it sounds a bit like the title of a seventies soft porn mag, the sort you’d find, as a curious adolescent, stuffed into a bin in a park during the school holidays and be somewhat horrified but equally intrigued by. But enough of my memories.)
When I look at long-forgotten and probably, at the time, quite throwaway items like this, aimed at a very young audience, it sets off a whole host of questions. I’m thinking it must be from the early 1960s – but what would a child think of it now? Would they be able to make sense of these pictures easily? The art style (with no artist credit) is really striking, with its limited inks and flat colour overlays. Each open spread alternates between pages of orange and green only, and blue and red only, with the effect of creating one darker tone where needed from the two colours printed on top of each other. It looks simple, but having done a bit of screen-printing in the past, I know it takes a fair bit of working out and planning. There’s a lot of clever use of white ('negative') space too.
The illustrations might even seem a little scary, a little stark, to a child of today. We mostly flood our books now with bright, warm colours and cuteness, not red shadows and blue hair. And, you know what, I’m reminded (a little) of this style of tone-reduced / screenprinted artwork too, who’d have thought it?!…
… as well as a certain controversial Seditionaries ‘Cowboys’ design T-shirt which I won’t reproduce here.
But away from such adult themes and back to JOY-TIME. What about the words? Some of the phrases really bring home the way language has inevitably changed.
This is probably my favourite page below. Not just because I’m a fan of ‘Birdies’ but it’s the very graphic use of those two ink colours and the areas of blank paper that I especially like here. Notice the bird swooping top left and the one in the middle at the bottom – just formed from negative space, a difficult technique to pull off. The blue shadow shapes too give just the right gravity. And the way the outline of the girl’s legs are red on one side, blue on the other, which we instinctively know to translate as light and dark. Sorry, but I get a bit of a kick from noticing this stuff - thinking about the way the artist’s brain works and trying to help mine!
Of course these pages were never intended to be critiqued sixty-odd years on from their creation. They were just made to delight, to soothe, educate and gently stir the imagination of babies and toddlers, born, as I was, into a world where there were no CBeebies or Kindle Kids. I very much hope that the baby Swede enjoyed it then too as much as I do now - even if for very different reasons... (And many thanks again.)